No presidency is complete without a constitutional crisis, real or imagined. Political critics claimed George W. Bush committed a string of high crimes and misdemeanors, from the Iraq war, to torture, to illegal wiretaps.
Bill Clinton’s impeachment was not over his horn dogging, but his mendacities regarding said activities. Ronald Reagan traded arms for hostages. Richard Nixon resigned over his involvement in the Watergate cover up when he forgot the president is not above the law.
And, really, doesn’t every constitutional crisis start with a president believing the Constitution is a list of suggestions best left for others to follow?
Four times in as many years, President Obama has taken an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, to the best of his ability. Little did we know that when he also swore “to faithfully execute” he not only meant the Office of the President, but also Americans living abroad suspected of planning terror attacks against other Americans.
A secret Department of Justice memo (see RESEARCH LINK below) that came to light last week lays out the justification for the assassination of an American living overseas believed by President Obama or his designate to present an imminent threat to national security. Our government, according to some people in Justice, does not have to provide proof the individual is actively plotting against the United States. All the White House needs, it seems, is the suspicion, the belief, an inkling the person is a “senior operational leader” of al-Qaeda or “an associated force.”
So far, if we can believe reports out of the Obama administration, our government has killed only three Americans under this questionable doctrine. Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan died on Sept. 30, 2011, while al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son Abdulrahman died two weeks later. Drones took them out in Yemen.
Al-Awlaki was born in New Mexico and became a major al-Qaeda player in Yemen. Khan, of Pakistani descent, grew up in Queens, NY, and was editor and publisher of “Inspire” (see RESEARCH link), a publication of al-Qaeda in the Arab Peninsula. Abdulrahman was born in Denver and was eating at a café when a drone ended his life.
The justifications in the memo are not a surprise. The surprise is that journalists, politicians, and pundits act like they are hearing about this for the first time. Not so. Attorney General Eric Holder laid it all out point-by-point in a speech (see LINK) at Chicago’s Northwestern University School of Law (see LINK) on March 5, 2012, eight months before the elections. Holder even addressed what he said is the distinction between “due process” and “judicial process,” saying they “are not one and the same” in terms of national security. “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process,” he said.
In other words unconventional warfare requires unconventional means to justify unconventional ends.
When terrorists kill innocent people to further their murderous message, and when Americans are among the innocent victims, it is easy to justify rough justice, whether on a street in Saigon or an outdoor restaurant in Yemen.
But the irony of the argument seems lost on some folks, particularly those who most vociferously condemned the use of so-called enhanced interrogation techniques on non-American terrorists who really did plan and execute attacks on Americans. We have now become a nation that can kill without proof, but cannot use enhanced measures to obtain that proof.
The issue becomes even more ironic when one considers that a Justice Department headed by an African-American justifies violating the Constitutional right to due process on behalf of an African-American president, and that we are debating this during Black History Month. I wonder if any teacher will take this opportunity to talk about Emmett Till who was a couple of years younger than Abdulrahman al-Awlaki when he left Chicago to visit relatives in Money, Miss., in August 1955. Some white men kidnapped him, beat him, and shot him in the head on the suspicion, the belief, an inkling he flirted with a white woman.
Now, some people will say this comparison is a mighty stretch, that the case of Emmett Till murdered by Southern racists in another century is entirely different from our government’s fight to protect us from terrorists. I guess that all depends on what your definition of “is” is, or if you are on the losing end of a due process server.
Our fight with terrorists will never be easy, and it becomes harder when our own people want to kill us. But, if we believe Constitutional rights are for some of the people some of the time, then the terrorists, whether religious or racist, have already won.